Friday, April 18, 2014

Beyond "Mercs & Mages": Part 2

Last week, I discussed a style of campaign that was suggested in the original Rifts rulebook, but has been largely ignored since: one based around seeking knowledge forbidden by the Coalition. There are plenty of other opportunities that don't involve giant robots duking it out with dragons, though. Here are a few more that are implied by the material presented in that book:

Exploration and Survival. Most of North America -- heck, the entirety of Rifts Earth -- is supposed to be trackless wilderness, filled with dangerous entities from other worlds. O.C.C.s like the Wilderness Scout, Vagabond, and even Warlock are tailor-made for a campaign in which the players are trying to help civilization regain a foothold... or stop it from re-despoiling nature.

Coalition Military. I've never really seen the appeal of roleplaying a futuristic Illinois Nazi, but there's certainly plenty of Coalition material (and O.C.C.s) to work with, especially if you've got players that are willing to question orders. You could do much worse than to read Stabilizing Rifts' thoughts on how one might run a cerebral Coalition-based campaign.

Fighting Crime In a Future Time. Alternately, a campaign focused on the law enforcement wing of the Coalition military could be interesting. Again, Coalition O.C.C.s (including sanctioned Psi-Stalkers and Dog Boys) would be the ones to go with. A police procedural set in Chi-Town -- or, even more tantalizingly, the 'Burbs, where things are bit wilder -- sounds like it has potential to me.

Smash the System. The Coalition are easy to hate. Playing anti-Coalition ideologues and agitators could be either be straightforward violent fun (blow up the Nazis!), or (if one was so inclined) a rumination on themes of surveillance, resistance, patriotism, and terrorism. (Wait, can you do that with Rifts?) You could also do a "we're the badguys" campaign and play the evil psychics, sorcerers and demons the Coalition insist are hiding in every corner. Either way.

Repo Man Is Always Intense. These are by no means the only possibilities for non-"blow badguys up for money" campaigns. On Google+, Benjamin Baugh recently pitched me an idea he called Hard Repo, which puts all of my half-baked ideas to shame:

Dig it. There's room in Rifts to run all kinds of lowlife crime shit. Heists, scams, con-games, etc. You can't put three exclamation marks after shit like that, so it doesn't get much attention in the rules. But there's room for all kinds of shenanigans. 

One of my great abortive games which never lived was Hard Repo. Repossessing robot vehicles, runeswords, mortgaged souls, cybernetics etc. It's the worst job in the whole world. 

I have a feeling Benjamin intended Hard Repo to be somewhat parodic, but I love the concept.  The big question would be "if we're repo men, who is hiring us to repossess this stuff?" You could have the player characters be unaffiliated specialists in re-acquiring goods that hire themselves out to anybody that can pay, but that skirts a little too closely to the standard "Mercs & Mages" setup. It would probably be more interesting to put them in the employ of the Black Market (a concept that was originally quite sketchy, but has recently been fleshed out). Or, if you were interested in a more exotic angle, the player characters could be working for one of the various Phase World-based factions (the arms-dealing Naruni, perhaps?) or even the most notorious merchants in the Megaverse: the Splugorth. An campaign idea like this almost writes itself, and it provides opportunities for interaction with practically every corner of the Megaverse, not just the starting playground of North America.

The point is that the Rifts setting provides the raw materials for adventures that are potentially much more interesting than the typical "wandering do-gooders/soldiers of fortune" template that is the default mode of play for so many roleplaying games. I hope somebody out there is using them.